In Professor H. Hanko’s reply to me, he maintains that Article 31 supports his position that disobedience to apostatizing leaders or to ecclesiastical decisions in conflict with the Word, are rebellion. To this I reply as follows.
Article 31 is a scriptural principle that applies to all ages. It was reasserted to oppose the hierarchical position which placed the word of men above the Scriptures. Van Dellen and Monsma (pages 145 & 146) write, “The Reformation recognized no authority above or beside the Bible . . . . If a conclusion proves to be contrary to the Bible, the matter is not to be considered settled and binding . . . . For that which is contrary to God’s Word . . . does not bind the believer.” Rev. H. Hoeksema writes, (Prot. Ref’d Churches Pages 165-167) “When decisions of the major assemblies are plainly contrary to the Word of God one may not and cannot submit.” (page 214) “It is characteristic of hierarchy to raise the authority of men above that of God . . . .”
The authority of the offices is derived from the Word. Paul, in II Corinthians 5:20, calls officebearers ambassadors. An ambassador, when he speaks the word of his king, has the same authority as his king; but when he speaks his own word, he has no authority. In The Triple Knowledge, Volume IX page 35, Rev. Hoeksema, writing about demands by officebearers in conflict with the Word of God says, “Disobedience to them is in that case no rebellion against God-instituted authority.” (Also see Ursinus’ commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, page 576 Calvin’s Commentary on Acts, Volume I page 176-178).
About Rev. De Cock, Prof. Hanko writes he did not agitate against ecclesiastical decisions and he submitted to suspension. However, in the November and December 1964 Beacon Lights, Prof. Hanko writes about Rev. De Cock as follows: “Since they could gain nothing by appealing to ecclesiastical assemblies, they took to the printing press to try to stem the tide of worldliness and false doctrine. It was these pamphlets which brought matters to a head. When the National Synod was condemned for its protection of heresy . . . then the liberals rose to action to silence those who wrote them.” He also writes, “In October of 1834, this minister was suspended from office and deposed . . . . In spite of his deposition, De Cock continued to preach to his people who needed him.”
Concerning Rev. Hoeksema, I gather Prof. Hanko would maintain that he actually separated himself from the Christian Reformed Church. Rev. Hoeksema always maintained he was cast out, not that he separated himself. (see Act of Agreement)
In reply to Prof. Hanko’s second paragraph I would say no one may ever promise to submit to all future decisions whether right or wrong. This is done by lodge members but not by God’s people.
The chief thrust of Mr. Elzinga’s article is the contention that there is no authority in the Church above the authority of the Word of God. That no one (and I least of all) disagrees with this contention surely goes without saying.
But once again, the point of my original article is badly missed in Mr. Elzinga’s letter. The point of the original article was to discuss the relation in which an individual member stands to the Church federation of which he is a part. This relation is defined by Article 31.
We have been discussing the relation of a faithful believer to a church federation which departs from the Word of God. Let’s turn the situation around .once. Supposing the individual member departs from the Word of God and is the unfaithful one while the Church federation represented in the various ecclesiastical assemblies remains faithful. The individual member is, of course, (as they all do) insisting that he stands on the basis of God’s Word, and the Church itself in all its parts has departed. What then?
This individual has attempted to prove, via appeal, that his position is the correct one and that the assemblies are wrong. He brings his appeal all the way to Synod and finds no support. He remains however, unconvinced. Would Mr. Elzinga maintain that he has every right in the Church to make public propaganda for his position even though it is manifest to everyone but himself that his position is contrary to the Word of God? Would he have the right to oppose the decisions of the assemblies within the federation and live in constant disobedience to their directives? Remember, even though he is taking a position contrary to the Word of God, he is convinced that he is right.
This would make an impossible situation.
Hence, it still remains a question: What, in Mr. Elzinga’s opinion, is meant by the “settled and binding” of Article 31?
It will be recalled that in the controversy of 1953, the matter of the Church property of First Church went to Court. In court the defendants in the case argued long and loud that every man had the right to maintain positions contrary to the ecclesiastical assemblies and remain within the Churches. To this position (which is essentially Congregationalism) Rev. Hoeksema replied in testimony in court. I quote one brief part of the reply found on page 465 of the court records. The question was put to Rev. Hoeksema: “Now, what about Article 31. Does that not give an individual a right to disagree with the decisions of classis and Synod?” Rev. Hoeksema’s reply was: “No, sir, it does not. It does not at all, not in the sense in which it has been testified here in court. That, too, would be anarchy. Let me explain . . . . When anything is decided contrary to the Word of God according to my conviction, I can never subscribe to it for one minute, of course not. That’s impossible. If anything is contrary to the Word of God and to the Confessions, I will never subscribe to it for one minute. That’s why I was deposed in 1924. Same thing. But, nevertheless, if that should ever happen, then either of two things will occur—not so as some of the witnesses have said here, that I could stay in the Protestant Reformed Churches on the principle of the freedom of my own conscience—by no means. Either I will, I would have to submit for the time being until I could explain and prove to major assembly the wrong of the decision, or I would have to get out. That’s what I did in 1924. I got out. I was expelled. That’s all right. But there is no view of church government that explains Article 31 in such a way that one can have the rights of his own opinion, even if he thinks it is in conflict with the Word of God, that he can have the right of his own opinion, and preach in the church of which he is a member in the connection of the Protestant Reformed Churches. No one ever does that.”
Finally, it ought to be apparent to Mr. Elzinga that I never said anything resembling his assertion that a man must promise to submit to all future decisions whether right or wrong. He promises to submit to the decisions of the federation of which he is a member. If Article 31 does not say this, I do not know what it says. If a decision is, in his opinion wrong, he has the right of appeal. If his appeal proves fruitless, he retains the right to leave the federation without ecclesiastical penalty.
—Prof. H. Hanko
Note: This will conclude this discussion, unless something substantially new is contributed. It should not be overlooked that while Article 31 of the Church Order embodies the sacred principle of reformation, it also clearly distinguishes reformation from revolution. The latter is always wrong.